My livelihood depends on my health. If I can’t hike, I can’t write hiking books. If I can’t paddle, I can’t write paddling guidebooks. If I can’t think clearly, I can’t write well. If my spiritual state is stale and sterile I am in no frame of mind to hike, paddle or write.
To most people the word “health” implies physical health, but being your best requires addressing the three underlying pillars of well-being — physical, mental and spiritual. Every day I strive to improve in all three departments. Over time I have realized that continual incremental changes for the better enhance your life.
Are you trying to improve mentally, physically and spiritually? God gives us our bodies, a sacred and unique temple, each of us. We ought to show gratitude for God creating us by taking care of our bodies. God gives us our minds. Let us use our brains for good, to improve our own condition, the conditions of those around us, and those in need near and far. And to honor these gifts we should more deeply connect with God spiritually by praying to our Creator, and listening to God, to learn his will for us.
The physical, mental and spiritual pillars of health are interlocked. Each underpinning strengthens the others. To neglect one of the three pillars weakens the other pillars. You can be the smartest person in the room, but physical debilitation will hamper your ability to use your smarts. And don’t we want to be an asset to our family and friends, not a burden? If, through personal neglect, we end up in poor health, we are heaping our self-created troubles on others.
Wouldn’t you rather be your best, being the one to help others in need? If you are spiritually depleted, then it is harder to lift others from their troubles. Spiritually enriched people are a source of strength in times of troubles.
How about the mental pillar? Do you still pursue knowledge despite being finished with formal schooling? Do you have a hobby such as jewelry making, quilting or astronomy? Do you group with others to learn from one another or simply try to gather all you can glean about your favorite subject, whether it is American history in my own case, or woodworking or some other endeavor?
Stimulating your mind not only engages you in life and keeps you in the game, but also exercises your brain, much as lifting weights excercises your body. As a student of history, I am amazed and inspired how our Founding Fathers — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Hamilton — sought knowledge in a variety of fields, whether it was architecture with Jefferson, economics with Hamilton, agriculture with Washington and the organization of peoples with Monroe.
What are you trying to learn more about? Or are you letting the television schedule dictate your learning experiences, patting yourself on the back after watching a show on the Discovery Channel? Be honest with yourself about truly exercising your mind.
To the physical health pillar in the foundation of a healthy life: I do know a little bit about physical well-being. The solutions really are simple — if you let them be simple. First, there is no specialized diet in the world that translates into improved health and long-lasting positive changes. Go ahead — try eating five grapefruits a day for three years, or some other non-balanced food craze.
In attaining a healthy body there are no shots, no pills and no instant results. We all already know what we should eat and in what portions. Eat less processed food, eat more fruits and vegetables. And don’t trick yourself by saying you are eating more vegetables by polishing off a bag of greasy potato chips. Be honest with yourself about your diet. After all, it is your life and your body and your health.
And exercise? You don’t need to join a gym. You don’t need special equipment or an extensive trail network nearby. And you don’t need multiple hours of exercise per day. When you set up unrealistic requirements for exercising you are actually building barriers between where you are and where you want to be. You are telling yourself why you can’t exercise, therefore absolving yourself from having to actually do it. Time goes by and your physical health deteriorates further, making you further inclined to not exercise.
Instead, think of ways you can get going. We all have a pair of tennis shoes in the closet. That is all you need in the equipment department. Start off by walking around the block for 15-30 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be a hiking trail. And do it four days a week, with three days off for any reason you desire. Over time, increase your walking minutes and increase your exercise days to five per week. After exercising regularly, you will find yourself more cognizant of what you eat and will desire to eat more healthfully. And when you eat more healthfully you will want to exercise more. This positive cycle reaps ever beneficial rewards.
To the results: This is where people often fail. They get with the program for a couple of weeks and see little or no changes. And so they quit. Look, it took you years to get in bad shape. What makes you think it is going to take two weeks to get out of it?
Instead think long term. Develop a healthy lifestyle that you can sustain over time. And slowly, but surely, you will not only lose weight and increase stamina but you will feel better overall, and continue working toward being the best you can physically. And once you get going why not recruit a friend, spouse or family member? You can encourage each other, keep each other from backsliding.
Maintaining good mental, physical and spiritual health makes sense economically. Going to the doctor less means savings in your health insurance as well as prescriptions, co-pays for visits and time spent going to the doctor and waiting at the office.
A leading motivator for me is the thought of my bodily health being subject to the whims of the United States government, whether it be under the new national health care law, or Medicare and Medicaid when I am 65. Can you imagine decisions concerning your health hanging in the balance of a bureaucracy with the efficiency of the post office or some other government agency? That thought alone makes me want to eat an apple, go for a hike, then get 8 hours of uninterrupted rest. And rest is important, too. It increases chances for success mentally, spiritually and physically. Nobody improves while exhausted.
Then, when a disease or malady of chance strikes, or even some kind of accident such as a car wreck, the better your beginning condition, the better you can fight off cancer or recover from a broken leg.
It is never too late to start. And if you start and fail, try again. Very few people succeed the first time out of the gate in any endeavor. But once you turn your life in the other direction, the view ahead looks a whole lot better.